A Pure Formality

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1995). — J.R.

A-Pure-Formality-Poster

After the success of Rain Man Barry Levinson was allowed to indulge himself with Toys, and after Cinema Paradiso Giuseppe Tornatore was similarly allowed to foist this work of staggering pretentiousness on the public (1994). This French-Italian production with French dialogue, written with Pascale Quignard, starts off promisingly enough as a police thriller with metaphysical and symbolic overtones, but becomes steadily more abstract and preposterous as it gets closer to the denouement. A man without identity papers (Gerard Depardieu) running through the woods in a raging storm in an unnamed country is arrested and taken to a dilapidated police station to be interrogated. He claims to be a famous writer named Onoff, but the facts he offers the inspector (Roman Polanski) are confused and contradictory, and as the night wears on things just get murkier and murkier. The performances by the two leads and by Sergio Rubini are more than serviceable, but it makes little difference given that the material is so gratingly awful. Beware. (JR)

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Anatomy of a Murder

From the Chicago Reader (July 8, 1995). — J.R.

This 1959 release is a prime contender for Otto Preminger’s greatest film — a superb courtroom drama packed with humor and character that shows every actor at his or her best. James Stewart plays a small-town Michigan lawyer asked to defend an army lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) on a charge of murdering a local businessman who allegedly raped his flirtatious wife (Lee Remick); Boston lawyer Joseph Welch (of the army-McCarthy hearings), in his only screen performance, plays the judge; and George C. Scott is a lawyer working for the prosecution. There are also wonderful performances by Arthur O’Connell and Eve Arden, and even a cameo by Duke Ellington, who composed the memorable jazz score. As an entertaining look at legal process, this is spellbinding, infused by an ambiguity about human personality and motivation that is Preminger’s trademark, and the location shooting is superb. Adapted by Wendell Mayes from Robert Travers’s novel. 161 min.

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Money Changes Everything [HYENAS]

From the Chicago Reader (July 7, 1995). — J.R.

Hyenas

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Djibril Diop Mambety, adapted from Friedrich Durrenmatt’s The Visit

With Mansour Diouf, Ami Diakhate, Mahouredia Gueye, Issa Ramagelissa Samb, Kaoru Egushi, and Mambety.

“The plot by now must be well known; a flamboyant, much-married millionairess returns to the Middle-European town where she was born and offers the inhabitants a free gift of a billion marks if they will consent to murder the man who, many years ago, seduced and jilted her….Eventually, and chillingly, her chosen victim is slaughtered, but I quarrel with those who see the play merely as a satire on greed. It is really a satire on bourgeois democracy. The citizens…vote to decide whether the hero shall live or die, and he agrees to abide by their decision. Swayed by the dangled promise of prosperity, they pronounce him guilty. The verdict is at once monstrously unjust and entirely democratic. When the curtain falls, the question that Herr Dürrenmatt intends to leave in our minds is this: at what point does economic necessity turn democracy into a hoax?”

These words of wisdom from Kenneth Tynan, written in 1960 about Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 play The Visit, are well worth recalling when you make your way to the Film Center this week or next to see Djibril Diop Mambety’s wonderful Senegalese feature Hyenas (1992) at the Black Harvest International Film and Video Festival.… Read more »

Paris-London Journal [1974]

From Film Comment, November 1974. I suspect that one factor that may have kept me from scanning and posting this column until now, at least in its complete form, is my dissenting view of CHINATOWN and WHAT?, even before the former became fully canonized as Holy Writ. -– J.R.

 

Moving across the Channel, a profound difference in the cinematic climate becomes immediately apparent. How could it be otherwise, considering that the lifestyles that go with each city are so strikingly antithetical? Paris is all adrenalin and shiny surfaces, hard-edged and brittle and eternally abstract, the capital of paranoia (cf. Rivette) and street spectacle (cf. Tati), where café tables become orchestra seats as soon as the weather gets warm — the city where everyone loves to stare. London is just the reverse, a soft-centered cushion of comfort where trust and accommodation make for a slower, saner, and ostensibly less shrill mode of existence: relatively concrete and prosaic, more spit and less polish, a city more conducive to eccentricity than lunacy. Relatively speaking, London isn’t a movie town. It’s considerably easier to go out to films in Paris and to be more selective about what one sees, because the area is smaller and the action tends to be more concentrated.… Read more »

R.I.P. Arthur Penn 1922-2010

This review of Night Moves appeared in the May 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. [September 11, 2009 postscript: Having just reseen Night Moves for the first time since it came out, I think it holds up remarkably well, in terms of its script and direction and almost uniformly fine performances. There's also some additional interest now in seeing Melanie Griffith in her first credited performance and James Woods, less impressive, in one of his earliest after Elia Kazan discovered him for The Visitors. As for Alan Sharp, it would appear that his filmography (which also includes The Hired Hand and Ulzana's Raid) warrants further investigation -- as does Jennifer Warren's.]—J.R.

U.S.A., 1975
Director: Arthur Penn

Cert—X. dist—Columbia-Warner. p.c—Hiller Productions/Layton. p—Robert M. Sherman. assoc. p—Gene Lasko. p. manager—Thomas J. Schmidt. asst. d—Jack Roe, Patrick H. Kehoe. sc—Alan Sharp. ph—Bruce Surtees. col—Technicolor. underwater ph—Jordan Klein. ed—Dede Allen, Stephen A. Rotter. p. designer—George Jenkins. set dec—Ned Parsons. sp. effects—Marcel Vercoutere, Joe Day. m/m.d—Michael Small. titles—Wayne Fitzgerald. sd. ed—Craig McKay, Robert Reitano, Richard Cirincione. sd. rec—Jack Solomon. sd. re-rec—Richard Vorisek.… Read more »

Try and Get Me!

From the Chicago Reader (July 17, 1992). — J.R.

 

try-and-get-me-lovejoy

Conceivably the most anti-American Hollywood picture ever made — I certainly can’t think of any competitors — Cy Endfield’s brilliant and shocking thriller (originally known as The Sound of Fury) was adapted by Jo Pagano from his novel The Condemned, which was inspired by a lynching that occurred in California in the 30s. A frustrated and jobless veteran (Frank Lovejoy), tired of denying his wife and son luxuries, falls in with a slick petty criminal (Lloyd Bridges), and the two work their way up from small robberies to a kidnapping that ends in murder. Apart from an unnecessary moralizing European character, this masterpiece is virtually flawless, exposing class hatreds and the abuses of the American press (represented here by Richard Carlson as a reporter) with rare lucidity and anger. At once subtle and unsparing, this may be the best noir thriller you’ve never heard of, perhaps because Endfield’s American career was cut short by the blacklist the same year it was released (1951). With Kathleen Ryan, Katherine Locke, Adele Jergens, and Art Smith. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 17, 7:45, 443-3737)